Monday, September 28, 2015

Parenting Shifts: raising kids in a developing culture

"Don't touch your face!"
"You can't play in the dirt!"
"No running while in the village!"
"Please don't share your water!" 

These are phrases that we have consistently said to our children.  None of these are things we ever thought we would say - definitely not with the frequency we now say them.  My six-year old is a typical boy and he loves to run and play in the dirt.  He has probably scared more than his fair-share of women in the community by running around and playing in the dirt.  He simply does not understand their concern.  They see a boy running and their memory jumps back to some child who ran and fell, and the scratch got terribly infected, causing amputation or worse - death.  They see a child playing in the dirt and remember a young child who played in the dirt and ended up with a serious infection or worms - perhaps this too resulted in death in the story that replays in their minds. 

Parenting on the mission field just is not the same as parenting in your passport culture.  You have to adapt to your surroundings, learn new cultural "no-no's," keep kids safe from totally new things that are often just as foreign to the parent!  While you work to raise respectful young adults, you suddenly find yourself balancing and teetering between two worlds.  It seems your family is always one step away from offending someone.

It is in these moments that you start to observe how others parent their children.  Maybe you are blessed with a more experienced "veteran" missionary family to watch and model.  Maybe you have met an incredible family on the mission field in your new home culture, and you can learn from them what is acceptable or not.  Maybe you're pulling your hair out because you feel completely lost in this adventure and it is not quite what you imagined it would be.  Praise God for His grace!

I remember in our first months in Haiti that I would change my responses to my children to match what the culture did.  I realized this was not productive, as my kids did not know what was expected of them.  We began to have lots of conversations about what is acceptable in each culture.  Our kids will one day be masters at fitting into the crowd anywhere they go, because they can assess the situation and adapt to what is expected of them in order to avoid cultural mishaps.  I pray that God uses this for His glory one day! Parents - it does not matter where you are raising your children - do not underestimate the importance of talking with them and sharing with them what your expectations are and why!  If you do not have a good reason, you may want to re-think your expectations.

If you are at the beginning of your adventure, trust in God's Word! His Word will guide you, even if you have nobody else around you to tell you what to do. 
Teach your children to love unconditionally, to be gracious and kind, to care about and for others, to respect their elders, and to listen well. 
Teach your children to pray about everything, without ceasing.
Teach them to follow your example by being a good enough example for them to follow! 
Teach your children to seek God's will first in their lives by modeling it for them, even on the hardest days.
Lastly - but definitely not least! - teach your children to be humble and ask forgiveness when they blunder, because they most definitely will.

Raising your children in a foreign culture is not an easy task, but God is faithful and will equip you.  He will walk with you as you try to guide your children closer to Him.
This, my friends, is what parenting is all about.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Where It All Began, part 4

I have been gradually writing the story of my call to missions.  About a year ago, I left off with the story of Gami and I getting married.  The lesson we learned through that difficult year was that God still could use us, we were not "damaged goods," and God still pursued us in spite of our failures.  Here is a link to the last part of this story.

In our early years of marriage, we learned a lot.  At any given point in time, one of us would be passionately pursuing Christ.  We were then able to encourage the other to do the same.  This fluctuated back and forth at times, but we both knew we wanted our children to grow up in a godly home.  This is what drew us back to God, and kept us on the right track.

Through this time, I began to reflect on where God had led me and the things He had showed me when I was younger.  I remembered the call to missions, and wondered if God would still allow me or ask me to walk this path.  I grew more courageous throughout the years, and desired to at least be involved in short-term missions.  I did not share this with Gami for quite some time.

Sometime in 2008, I began to share this with Gami.  Our church was talking more about missions and I desperately wanted to join a mission trip.  In 2009 our church was discussing an international mission trip to Africa.  I had attended some missions dinners and loved the missionaries that were coming in from Africa - indigenous missionaries that were changing their world.  I wanted to go to Africa, but a new baby was not going to make that possible.  The trip did not come to fruition at this point, but Gami and I both began to take missions more seriously.

I decided to return to school to pursue a Nutrition Science degree.  My goal was to study malnutrition and how to encourage proper nutrition in developing countries.  I was passionate about suffering children and the injustices they suffer.  Compassion International had opened my eyes to the reality of malnutrition, and this was my burning passion.  I dove into school and enjoyed studying.  The more I learned, the more I wanted to study.

God led us to new positions in our church, and I eventually joined the missions board.  This is where God started to really move powerfully.  I was tasked with helping to prepare a mission trip.  We were directed to Nehemiah Vision Ministries (NVM) by J.L. Williams, whose sister served with me on the missions board.  I began planning this trip, having no idea how it would radically change our family.  We planned on taking our 2 eldest with us, who would be 9 and 10 at the time.  The trip was scheduled for August, 2012.  This was the step that hurled us into the mission field sooner than we thought, and in a place we would not have imagined.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Five Kids (full story)

Between Christmas and New Year's, Cathi and I went into the village of Rampa, which is in the opposite direction as Chambrun, but only a little farther. We went to visit a lady of the church, Silianis, who hadn't come to church in a little bit and we wanted to check up on her. She is the single mother of several kids, one of whom is a special needs boy. Her jogging stroller that she uses to push Johnny to church had broken, and so was forced to carry him if she wanted to get to church. She had done this several times and as a result, her back was hurting (as Johnny is now 5 years old) and was taking it easy. While we sat and visited with her and her kids, several other kids came from next door to her place to see "the blans." The kids had the tell-tale signs of malnutrition - some with swollen bellies, discolored hair, etc. Silianis then told us who these kids were. This is the backstory to the situation in which we now find ourselves. Some of you may have heard it by now, but so that everyone who supports us understands where all of this is coming from, this is the story:
On Christmas Eve, a mother took her five children, ages 10, 7, twin 4 year olds, and 3, to Onaville in the mountain and left them there. No one has heard or seen this woman since. All five children are malnourished and look smaller than their ages. The 3 year old has never been able to walk due to severe malnourishment. The older four kids actually walked all night to find their way back to their own village. The 3 year old was heard crying in the morning by someone walking by and was brought back to the village. I cannot state how much of a miracle all of this already is. Cathi saw the youngest girl, Rosamel (Rose as we now call her), in the malnutrition clinic in November 2012 when we came to NVM to interview. She had captured Cathi's heart even then. When we heard that she had been dropped from the program, we believed she would not make it. Yet, here she was, alive.
Unfortunately, the mother of these kids destroyed a lot of relationships within this community and her family that there is no desire to care for the kids. There is an aunt that lives nearby who decided to try to look after the kids. Solanj (the aunt) is 68. One of her other children died years ago and she now cares for those 5 grandchildren. They are teens and in school, so she does her best to put a roof over their heads, feed them, and put them through school. Now, she had added these 5 to the number of kids she is responsible for. There is not adequate space for the kids, nor does she have the means to feed them all, let alone put them through school. They sleep in a mud hut on the dirt floor, because there is no room for a second bed in it - Solanj (understandably) sleeps in the only bed in there. They don't eat every day - sometimes going without food for 2 or 3 days at a time. While we have witnessed abject poverty here in Haiti, God has allowed us to be absolutely broken for these kids.
We have felt God asking us to jump into the situation and help in whatever way possible. We started by gathering some clothes for the kids and bringing sandwiches and other easy foods to carry. Then, we asked permission if we could bring the kids to church. Sunday mornings, we go early to bathe the kids, get them dressed in nice clothes, and bring them on campus. Here, they can have breakfast, go to church with us, then be fed lunch, then have an opportunity to just play with our kids for the afternoon before we feed them again and take them back to the village. These Sundays have become really special - chaotic mind you, but great. We go down to Rampa every other day to either bring sandwiches or to bring them back here so that they can eat. Last week, we walked to Rampa to pick up the kids, then walked them down with us to Chambrun to visit our Haitian family there. It was a long walk and resulted in Cathi, me, and Kayla each carrying one of the kids! But in the month that we have invested in these kids, we have seen them open up and their personalities come out. Makenson, the oldest, and I played soccer with a balloon all afternoon Sunday. Miralin (7), though quiet and reserved, was playing with our girls' dolls, showing a tenderhearted nature. Juvelda (4), always serious, was spinning in her new dress, smiling and giggling up a storm. Juvelson, her twin brother, eats slower than his siblings and is always willing to share his food with them. Though quiet around other people, as soon as he is with us, he starts talking non-stop! And Rose has started lifting herself up and walking while holding onto furniture. Though people in the village are convinced she can't talk, we've heard her say phrases here and there to convey her feelings ("Give me water!"). Seeing all of this develop in them has been a blessing in itself. However, it's always heart-wrenching to take them back and know they may not eat tomorrow. Or to see their countenance change when we get ready to leave.
We've met with NVM leadership about possibilities for further help for the kids. Without going into too much of the legalities, NVM cannot step into the situation in a greater capacity. The mother would have to sign over legal custody of the kids in order for them to be in the children's home. And as of right now, only the twins are eligible to go in the home. Rose needs more than what they can offer right now. The older two would not be able to go into school - a requirement for the children's home kids. They're too old to go into the kindergarten class and without prior schooling, they can't pass the placement test for first grade. Still believing that God brought us into this situation, we're not letting any of that discourage us. On the third Thursday of February, the school committee will vote on whether to let Juvelson and Juvelda into a kindergarten class - with the knowledge that this late in the year, they'll have to repeat. But at least this way, they'll get fed every day and have access to our clinic for medical care. We've asked the school administration to recommend a tutor for Makenson and Miralin. If they can work hard between now and August, they could pass the placement test to enter first grade. Then, they, too could be in school and have the benefits of a meal and healthcare. For now, we'd work with Rose to see if we can get her to walk and talk in order to get into pre-school this fall too.
Please pray with us for these kids. Pray also for us as we seek to follow God's leading in how we are to continue being involved with them. We believe we're doing what He's asking of us, and are prepared to continue walking this road to ensure the kids have the opportunity to reach the potential God has for them. Pray that the gospel would take root in them and in the family. Solanj has heard the gospel, but is currently in a "commitment" period to voodoo gods. Pray for this bondage to be broken and Solanj to embrace the freedom in Christ! Pray that through these kids and what transpires, God would be glorified, so that others would see His power to save and restore.